Two weeks into my new full-time gig, I can report that life at a television station, in and of itself, does not make one better looking or more well-spoken. It does, at least, encourage the expansion and refinement of one’s wardrobe, which in my case was a dire need.
A snippet of evidence: Thursday night, approaching the entrance of a local restaurant, still suited up in TV blazer and tie, I spotted a group of diners just inside, moving toward the exit. I opened the door for them with exaggerated flair — and was mistaken for the doorman.
The group included local music legend Tommy Hays, still a splendidly handsome fellow at age 90. He looked me up and down. “You look good,” he said, a hint of surprise in his voice. Tommy, I should note, is my third cousin as nearly as he and I can determine, and we often exchange observations about the remarkable quality of our family DNA.
I was introduced to my new colleagues at KGET 17 News as the veteran journalist who knows where the city’s bodies are buried. The guy who knows the cellphone numbers and ideological leanings of half the town. The guy who possesses a healthy aptitude for skepticism and true-believer conviction about the democracy-preserving nature of his profession, warts and all. A newsroom resource from whom they can learn.
In other words, I was way oversold.
All of the learning has been flowing in the opposite direction. I have asked this question three times already: “Explain to me again — exactly what is a VO/SOT?” (It’s a voice-over/sound-on-tape story for broadcast, if that helps.) A couple of times a day I hear, “Hey, better fix your tie.” I finally turned for help on that latter issue to 17 Sunrise reporter Taylor Schaub, a desk neighbor who ties an outstanding tie. He is 20. Twenty. I have been tying ties significantly longer than he has been alive, and apparently doing it wrong.
I am facing three long learning curves, one technical, one cultural and one appearance related. A Facebook friend let me have it last week: “You looked uncomfortable and frumpy,” she wrote, after watching me stammer, live, through a story on set. I told her every “after” photo of physical transformation — think Jenny Craig — needs a “before.” I expect to be in the “before” stage for some time.
News Director Michael Trihey says he wants my example to reflect the mission: Making the world, starting with this community, a better place. That I can do. That was my objective when I matriculated from Sacramento State University as a baby journalist in 1985, but it took shape and meaning at The Bakersfield Californian over three decades.
The Californian is still the big dog in terms of detail, depth and analysis, and it still has storytellers like Steven Mayer, who can accomplish things with some well-crafted words that few can match. Trust me: Mayer, John Cox, Sam Morgen and the rest are required daily reading at TV 17 and every other station in town. Hopefully my broadcast colleagues pick up on the sense of duty and purpose between the lines of their work.
This — and I refer now to the community of local journalists everywhere, broadcast, print and digital — is not simply a job.
My transition to TV (“the dark side,” as anchor Jim Scott calls it) for a guy who no longer looks like a Ken doll — wait ... did I ever? — has not been as smooth as I might have liked. But my key card still lets me in the building, so apparently there is hope.
Teddy Feinberg, The Californian’s news editor, tried to encourage me with a sports metaphor the other day. “By next year at this time you’ll be cracking doubles and dingers,” he texted, “but for now you have to accept you went from the NL to the AL as a free agent and you have to adjust to new pitching, ballparks, managers, umpires and the designated hitter.”
Single, single, single. That’s how Rod Carew did it. And the ball appears to be the same size over in this league.